Four Price discusses education and immigration with HCRSPA

Representing much of the high plains region in Austin, State Rep. Four Price was able to share a number of updates regarding current policy and law being developed in the Texas Capital.
Alex Mann
Managing Editor

A packed Gallery Room at Frank Phillips College welcomed State Representative Four Price as he joined members of the Hutchinson County Retires School Personnel Association on Thursday to share details on the latest session of the Texas State Congress, and share updates regarding education policy.

“I appreciate the opportunity to come back, and thank you all for inviting me,” Price began, “I'm really grateful for the opportunity to represent you at the state capital... and I wanted to tell you a bit about the 84th Session, and get your feedback.” He continues, “I want to start by bringing you back six months, or really about nine months as we started the 84th Session. We went into the 84th Session in a very different economic climate, and a very different position for the state then when we entered sessions before that. If you think back not that long ago, in 2011, just four years ago when the state had a $20 billion economic shortfall. That was a very difficult time. Everything, including education, received a reduction in appropriations. To balance our budget, which is a constitutional requirement of the state of Texas, we can only spend what the State Comptroller says we have in revenue... in '13 when we came back and the economy had improved and a lot of the decisions made in 2011 had paid dividends, and we had more money to spend then we did in '11.”

According to Price, economic conditions allowed the state congress to move forward with a number of initiatives that had put on hold. He says, “The state of Texas was in great shape, and we were really interested in moving the needle on some policy issues that we hadn't had the opportunity to address in sessions past.” Price continues to share a number of the priorities state legislators spent the past years working towards. “A lot of it had to do with fully funding enrollment growth in public education. Right now we have over 5 million kids in public education across the state of Texas. If that sounds like a big number, it is. We have 27 million Texas now, and it's already grown by two and a half million since the last census...We needed to anticipate the growth, and fund an additional 80,000 students per year.” Price continues listing other education priorities, “Pre-K was a huge priority of the governor's... one which I think will produce long term benefits. Most of you know as educators... know it's a lot harder and a lot more expensive to educate children when they're older, say a sixth, seventh, or eighth grader catching up then it is to start them early and maintain a nice track... Even though you have that investment which is more expensive on the front end, I think that overall, it's better for the state and better for the taxpayers.” While the updates on education were of great interest to the local educators, other priorities of the state congress affected different aspects of state administration. “It was also a priority to crack down on state contracting practices.” Price says, “Making sure the money the state is spending is spent efficiently. The state has always done a pretty good job of entering into contracts, what it's not done a good job of is monitoring those contracts.”

While transportation and healthcare were other priorities, those gathered were more eager to hear about the budget. According to Price, the lions share of the Texas budget is dedicated to things like education, medical care, and social services, most other aspects of state funding are taken from roughly a third of the remaining budget. For this reason, Price urged those attending to pay attention every time they hear politicians pushing for larger budgets in certain departments, since every increase to one area necessarily means a decrease to others. “This budget ended up being a $209.4 billion,” Price says, referencing the total state budget, “That is an incredible number. We talk about our state's budget... but it's so massive, I always have to remind myself how many zeros are there, and what we're actually dealing with.” He says, “We now have the 12th largest economy on the planet. Just the state of Texas. So our economy is larger than the country of Mexico, the country of Spain, it is a massive, robust economy, and it can be complicated in terms of the issues connected with it.”

As the meeting moved into an open question and answer session, one issue dominated the discussion. Illegal immigration, and its impact on education, and the state as a whole. “It's having a big impact.” Price concedes, “Let me break it down... The United States Supreme Court does not allow us to not accept someone into our school system who might be undocumented. If they're here, and they show up at school, we educate them. That's the law. But that's happening quite often... Does that put pressure on our systems? Yes it does. It puts a lot of pressure on our school systems, in some communities much more than others, and it puts a lot of pressure on our healthcare system.”

Naturally, those concerned with the ongoing issue are eager to see progress, and Price had news in that regard. “So what are we doing about it?” Price says, “A lot of folks tend to emphasize the border with Mexico... because a lot of folks come over from Mexico into the United States. We put in $829 million this session into enhancing our border security. Without getting too detailed, that allows the DPS to have additional trooper schools, to graduate more troopers, to increase manpower both in certain communities, and along the border. It allows for increased management of technology being utilized on the border, because I think most folks realize we cant literally put someone every three feet along the border for 1800 miles... but you can have technology that monitors movement, and travel to and from Mexico so people can act on it quicker. We've seen improvement. We've seen apprehensions go down along the border over the past year with the implementation of a higher visibility both in manpower and technological improvements. We've also enhanced what DPS can do along the [Rio Grande].” Price continues, referring to his own district specifically, “We're a large settlement area for refugees, which is not illegal immigration, but we're a settlement area for refugees entering our country with the permission of the federal government. That has it's own set of challenges, both with criminal justice, interpreters, healthcare, and the school system.”

With recent headlines regarding Syrian refugees, these last comments drew a number of whispers from those gathered. Taking notice, Price shared what he knew about the situation. “t's really nothing the legislature deals with, but I have received a number of calls,” he began, “A lot of recent attention... has been on the Syrian refugees. In case anyone is curious about that, there are no Syrian refugees right now in this area. There were about 148 refugees that entered Texas in the recent past, but all of them were settled in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. The alarm bells went off after what happened in Paris... but we saw the governor say he wanted to stop all Syrian refugee settlement right now. Personally, I don't have a tremendous amount of confidence in the vetting process these refugees go through.” Before closing, Price offered a few final thoughts on the issue, “We need to be humanitarian, there are persecuted folks, Christians, all around the globe... The United States has a history, and we need to maintain a humanitarian aspect of welcoming legal immigration,” he pauses, “but we need to be careful.”